Note that I’ve moved my work to DanRosenfeld.com. This post and future work can be found there.
Photo — Adrian Mendoza
A bit less than ten years ago, I started to look into the question of why so few people were using videoconferencing. Videoconferencing had been commercial available for about 30 years at that point and free options like CU-SeeMe had been available for a decade, but relatively few people used VC regularly.
I–and many others–had wondered how big a role the lack of eye-contact played in the low adoption rate of video calling. I worked on some new approaches to solving this problem (e.g. this) and through this work, started a collaboration with Bill Buxton. Bill broadened my thinking beyond concerns about eye contact alone, turning me on to the larger issues of gaze awareness (i.e. awareness of what the person I’m talking to is looking at) and spatial awareness, as mediated by video conferencing systems.
I started thinking about how some of the relevant variables–scale, orientation, relative orientation, degree of eye-contact–could impact the qualitative experience of people interacting through video. How does the way that I and you are represented affect the way we feel about the interaction and roles that we play in the interaction? For the last year or so, I’ve been doing some experiments to see what kind of experiences I could create by manipulating these variables.
Here’s a quick experiment you can try to understand what I’m getting at. Make a Skype (etc.) call from a laptop to a friend with a laptop. Make the video full-screen. One of you should lie on your back and hold the laptop over your head (with the camera pointing at your face, of course); the other should put the laptop down with the screen flat against the ground, and kneel over it.
How does it feel? Straight guys tend to be especially disconcerted by this.
The Big Head
The Big Head project is one of these experiments. It’s a large, head-mount box with a 24″ LCD on the front showing a live video view of the wearer’s face. Of course, the face is flat, slightly miscolored, unmistakeably a video and much larger than usual.
The wearer’s face is captured with a video camera looking through a half-silvered mirror. There’s a second camera, which captures a view from the front of the box, near the eyes of the on-screen face. The outside view is shown on an internal LCD, which reflects on the half-silvered mirror; this way the wearer can look directly at the LCD and the camera at the same time. (This is essentially a tele-prompter, like Errorl Morris’ Interrotron).
The whole assembly is carried via floating frame, mounted to the shoulder and hips.
First outing – Halloween 2011
After about a year of occasionally building, fiddling about, premature optimization and enormous procrastination –with, for good measure, a few months on my back with a herniated disc–I was finally ready to take the Big Head outside my studio. My neighborhood has a pretty active Halloween and this seemed as good a time as any.
So I went out into the neighborhood at dusk with my good friend Mike Allen (the English guy) acting as M.C. and helping me from bumping into too many things.
The results you can judge for yourself from the video.